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End sex trafficking: Three good strategies are within our grasp

Sex trafficking is a longtime problem in Duluth and Superior, including because of our international port. This is a Duluth police videotape image of a prostitution operation at a ship docked at the Peavey elevator in Superior in 2001. (File / News Tribune)

Human trafficking is the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprise and is an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry. Up to 27 million people around the world are held in some form of slavery; but last year only 46,500 of them were identified, according to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the U.S. State Department.

“Identifying and rescuing child victims of sex trafficking is particularly difficult,” said southern California novelist and attorney Pamela Samuels Young, author of “Anybody’s Daughter.”

Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable children in our society, such as runaways or children in foster care, Young said. These girls, often as young as 9 or 10, already have tragic lives. Nationally, 95 percent of teen girls arrested on prostitution charges were victims of sexual abuse earlier in their lives.

“They’re easy prey for pimps because they’re desperately looking for someone to love and care for them,” Young says. So when a would-be pimp befriends them, lavishing them with attention, clothes, food and shelter, it doesn’t take long for them to fall in “love” and comply when he asks her to help him make money.

“The pimp alternates between making the girl believe she loves him and physically and emotionally forcing her into prostitution,” Young said. “These girls are forced to turn 20 tricks a day, which brings in big money for the pimp. We’re seeing gangs abandon the drug trade and turn to sex trafficking because it’s far more lucrative and less likely to earn them any serious jail time.”

At least 100,000 children in the United States are victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to a report of the findings of a 2012 National Colloquium on the issue.

What can we do to end child sex trafficking? Young offered these solutions.

* Enact stiff penalties for traffickers and johns. For a long time, people who purchased sex did not face criminal prosecution while those who sold it or promoted it did. While that is beginning to change, the punishment for johns too often is still no more than a slap on the wrist. As for pimps, even if they are arrested, they’re often back on the street the next day while the girls remain in custody.

“We need to enact severe criminal penalties for people who solicit children for sex as well as those who traffic in children,” Young said. “Significant jail time should be mandatory for both.”

* Treat commercially sexually exploited children as victims, not criminals. Thanks to the growing global focus on human trafficking, law enforcement agencies and first responders finally are beginning to receive the training they need to recognize an exploited child.

“An act of prostitution involving a child is an act of child rape,” Young said. “These children don’t need to be arrested. They need to be rescued.”

* Help sexually exploited children transition out of “the life” by supporting organizations that provide support services. For many of the underage girls arrested for soliciting prostitution, it’s a revolving door, Young said. They go back to “the life” because they have no other options. These girls need temporary and long-term housing, medical and psychological care, educational services, mentoring and job training.

When communities rally to provide support, these girls can be helped emotionally and physically; they can transform their lives.

Ginny Grimsley is the national print campaign manager for News and Experts (newsandexperts.com), a media-resource firm in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

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READ MORE MONDAY

For at least four years, ever since Minnesota became one of the first states in the country to treat those being sold for sex as victims rather than as criminals, we’ve been a national leader in combating sex trafficking. But even Minnesota has more work to do. Read the News Tribune’s editorial on Monday’s Opinion page.

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